Airport operator, CAM, is confident that Macau’s host of attractions, that include the most profitable casinos in the world, give it a winning hand when it comes to route development.
A record 5.5 million passengers (+10.5%) passed through Macau International Airport last year and the figure is set to soar to 6.1 million in 2008 as demand for tourism and business travel to the former Portuguese colony continues to rise.
Its casinos, which last year raked in $10.4 billion – more than its counterparts on the famous Las Vegas strip – are without doubt Macau’s biggest draw, especially to the Mainland Chinese.
In fact CAM claims that the newly opened $2.4 billion Venetian Macau Resort is the world’s biggest airport hotel as it is less than a five-minute shuttle bus ride away.
The complex – one of 28 casinos in Macau – boasts 3,000 rooms and more floor space than four Empire State Buildings.
But Macau is also one of the planet’s fastest growing Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) destinations and a popular spot for more traditional holidays due to its rich culture and history. Its famous old centre, for example, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Airport marketing director, Samuel Tong, believes that this wide ranging appeal gives Macau and CAM a unique advantage over the four other Pearl River Delta (PRD) gateways – Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Zhuhai.
All, however, have a key role to play in the region’s economic development, according to Tong, who claims that Macau’s niche is its appeal to South East Asia leisure/business travellers and the gateway’s growing reputation as a low-cost carrier (LCC) hub.
It counts AirAsia, Tiger Airways, Cebu Pacific and Jetstar Asia – which launched flights to Singapore Changi on February 2 – among its LCCs and is optimistic about adding to that list over the next 18 months.
Says Tong: “The LCCs like us because we are a more convenient option for them than many of the bigger airports. Our size means that we are in a better position to provide them with the levels of service they require at the price they want to pay. We are also popular with passengers because of our quick and easy sea and land connections to Mainland China and elsewhere across the region.”
Macau has certainly devoted a lot of time to improving its multi-modal links, including a host of waterborne services providing rapid boat connections to Hong Kong and key PRD cities such as Dongguan and Zhongshan.
CAM is also actively working to expand Macau International Airport’s route network and list of airline customers to increase the gateway’s passenger appeal.
A total of 15 airlines currently offer passenger services to 32 destinations across Mainland China and the Asia-Pacific region from Macau.
Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Sydney are among 13 regional routes served from the gateway today and Beijing, Chengdu, Kunming and Shanghai are among its 17 Mainland China routes.
National flag carrier, Air Macau – is not surprisingly – the gateway’s biggest operator using a fleet of 17 Airbus aircraft to serve 16 destinations across Mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Tong is certainly proud of Macau’s past marketing campaigns that led to the airport becoming the first gateway in the greater China region to attract a LCC back in 2004, and believes that similar efforts are now needed for it to take the next route development step.
Adds Tong: “I would like to see the launch of services to India and the Middle East and the addition of new routes to Mainland China, Japan and Korea, and are actively targeting potential operators for these services.
“In terms of priority, we are primarily focusing on the outbound China market and South East Asia region. We are also hoping to introduce long-haul flights to Europe and the US via a connecting hub like EVA Air’s Taipei base or China Eastern Airlines’ Shanghai home. Events like Routes’ Regional Asia 2008 hosted by CAM, certainly help our efforts.”
Attracting more airlines and services to Macau is also in line with CAM’s policy of ensuring that it doesn’t become too dependent on Air Macau to stimulate future traffic growth.
After Air Macau, EVA Air, AirAsia, TransAsia Airways and Tiger Airways are the next biggest operators at Macau International Airport.
Macau’s rapid traffic growth of recent years is, however, beginning to put a strain on both the gateway’s passenger and cargo facilities, which are fast nearing capacity.
Desperate to avoid becoming a victim of its own success, CAM recently announced its intention to make the expansion of the passenger terminal a top priority.
The extension – expected to double the airport’s capacity to 12mppa – cannot come quickly enough for the airport, which will exceed its 6mppa design capacity later this year if the 2008 forecast proves accurate.
As part of the planned facelift, the terminal will get six new boarding bridges and a host of new IT systems and technology that will increase the airport’s operational efficiency and passenger processing times.
Other key projects of the gateway’s $1.2 billion master plan include airfield enhancements to raise today’s runway capacity from 16 to 28 movements per hour and additional parking apron for aircraft.
In addition the airport is expected to open a new logistics centre later this year that will allow the gateway to handle up to 320,000 tonnes of cargo per annum.
More than 180,000 tonnes of cargo passed through the airport in 2007 and Tong insists that Macau’s “superb” ferry connections has led to an ever increasing amount of import shipments being transported from Mainland China and other South East Asian cities by ship.
Like its bigger cousin Hong Kong, there is simply no denying the fact that Macau’s future growth is inextricably linked to Mainland China.
Put in perspective, Macau – historically a popular transfer point for passengers travelling between Mainland China and Taiwan – is only 145km from Guangzhou, 83km from Shenzhen and shares a border with China’s Zhuhai Special Economic Zone.
Says CAM’s executive director, Suning Liu: “With a population of only around half-a-million people we have to look beyond Macau for the passengers that will sustain our long-term growth, and you don’t get much bigger a market than Mainland China. More than 35 million people live in the Pearl River Delta region alone and another six million just a short ferry ride away in Hong Kong. We must be the envy of most airports.”
This article features in Routes News 2008 Issue 1